Gwyneth starts with the basics, so that is where we’ll start: Establishing a well-stocked kitchen. Let’s ignore the introductory page, in which she explains how her favorite creative culinary moments arise when coming home from work with no time to go shopping (it must have been the servants’ day off). Moving right along, the list is revealing, and it gets the average reader off to a shaky start. This is a book you read with one eye on your bank account. According to The Atlantic, it would take at least $450 to stock my kitchen with her “essential” ingredients, as well as an additional $1,300 minimum to acquire all the “essential tools.” So, now Gwyneth and I are off to a bad start.
Now, I actually happen to have some of the essential ingredients on hand, which is a welcome surprise. Olive oil? Check! (Although mine isn’t imported from Spain. Ho hum.) But there are four more “essential” oils I’m missing, including toasted sesame and safflower. And that’s just the “oils” section. Moving down the list, I can check off Dijon mustard, garlic, and a few random spices (I’m missing — of course — saffron). There are at least 40 other ingredients I’m missing that Gwyneth recommends I have on hand, and they range from the totally normal (ice cream, baking powder, almonds) to the obnoxious (four different kinds of flour, something called “Bragg Liquid Aminos”) to the stomach-churning (one word: Vegenaise — regular mayo is “fine and works,” Gwyneth huffs). Again, Gwyneth and I aren’t starting off well.
We then get a few actual recipes, for stocks and simple sauces, all of which will appear in later recipes, so I won’t delve into any of them yet. But let’s just say I’m dreading making the fish stock, which requires four lobsters. Or, for that matter, the four other dishes that require lobster. To give Gwyneth some credit, though, I am very much looking forward to attempting homemade Sriracha.
And then we get to the “essential tools.” Vitamix Blender? A minimum of $450. Le Creuset Dutch oven? At least $200. Jamie Oliver Flavour Shaker? At least $30. And I don’t even know what the point of that thing is. This is where I start sweating. And this list doesn’t even include items from later recipes, which call for paella burners and pans, or the pizza recipe in which Gwyneth recommends installing a wood-burning pizza oven in your garden. (Somehow, I am actually not joking about that! Who is this woman?!)
My favorite pre-recipe section, however, is by FAR the chart in which Gwyneth provides you with alternatives to some of the health-food ingredients she recommends. This is the most enjoyable example of Gwyneth’s complete lack of experience in the real world, and she parodies herself better than I could ever do. For example, did you know that when you don’t have almond or hemp milk on hand, something called “cow’s milk” (also known as MILK) will suffice? Or when you’re out of duck or tempeh bacon, common “pork bacon” will do in a pinch!
Am I delaying by heavily analyzing these pre-recipe pages of the book? Absolutely. Because one thing has become abundantly clear, the more I look into this cookbook. While Julie Powell’s project was all about time management, and learning classic techniques, and actually becoming a better cook, the Danny/Gwyneth Project is about one thing, and one thing only: Money.
Good thing I got my tax return yesterday. The cooking starts this weekend.